Syracuse Makes First-Half Statement

With everything to gain and little to lose, Syracuse came out of the gates strong against West Virginia. At the half, the team enjoyed a 21-9 lead.

After a short possession by the Syracuse offense to open the half, the defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing West Virginia drive. Deon Goggins broke up a pass, and sure tackling prevented the Mountaineers from moving the chains on the next two downs.

Syracuse got the ball back and put together a methodical drive capped by a 3-yard pass from Ryan Nassib to Nick Provo, on a play-action pass out of the shotgun. The 14-play drive took nearly half of the first quarter to complete, and four different players received a handoff in the process.

The Mountaineers responded with a scoring drive of their own, aided by a kickoff out of bounds from Ross Krautman. With the short field, Geno Smith converted third downs via crossing routes, but SU buckled-down on third-and-goal to force a Tyler Bitancurt field goal attempt. He made good on the 27-yard try.

Syracuse, still with the momentum, went on another 14-play drive that ended in the end zone. Nassib hit four different targets on the march, and Antwon Bailey moved the chains twice. He appeared to have the ball on the goal-line, but Nassib kept it in the read-option before walking in for 6. The latter part of the drive was aided by a Bruce Irvin personal foul, though questionable at best.

After a solid return by Tavon Austin, WVU's Smith took some down-the-field shots. On third-down, he found Stedman Bailey for an over-the-shoulder catch over two defenders. Bailey tight-roped the sidelines and ended up with a 64-yard score, though Bitancurt missed the ensuing extra point.

On the ensuing kickoff, the momentum swung right back into the Orange's favor. Dorian Graham, who was shaken up earlier in the game, showed no ill-effects on a 98-yard kickoff return to put Syracuse up 21-9.

Smith and company could not respond during their next chance, and Chandler Jones made his presence felt on back-to-back sacks to force a WVU punt.

After an SU three-and-out, Smith found Willie Milhouse on a busted coverage for 43 yards. A Bailey reception got the ball down to the Syracuse 12-yard-line, but the Orange defense was up for the challenge yet again. On third-and-goal, Jeremi Wilkes stepped in front of Smith's pass for a interception.

With minimal time left in the half, only five combined plays were run by both teams before the break.

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